5 Levels of “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix

Ayla Tesler-Mabe  /  Lessons UPDATED Jan 19, 2023

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The best way to describe the way Jimi Hendrix played is “complete freedom” on the fretboard. He was the king of mixing rhythm and lead guitar together at the same time. Even if you stripped the other instruments away from his performances, there was an entire ensemble of guitar happening at once. A great way to start learning to play like this yourself is to break one of his songs down into levels. In this lesson, we’ll be using the song “Hey Joe” to work our way through the skills you need to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix!

Level 1
We’ll get started by using open chords. At its base, “Hey Joe” uses some pretty simple open chord shapes that you probably already know. These chords are C major, G major, D Major, A Major, and E Major. Playing with these open chords makes the song sound much more like the original recording by Billy Roberts.

Level 2
To take things to the next level, you’ll have to start playing bar chords. If you aren’t comfortable with bar chords yet, check out this guide.

Using bar chords opens up a lot of possibilities when it comes to playing lead lines between chords. If you really want to play these bar chords the way Jimi did, then you’ll have to incorporate your thumb as well. Instead of using a bar, he used his thumb to reach around the back of the guitar neck and fret the low E string. Doing this for major chords rooted on the low E string allowed him to play more comfortably while freeing up his fingers to quickly play passing notes. 

Level 3
Now it’s time to get your strumming hand involved. Jimi always had a right hand groove going when he played that helped him to bounce between rhythm and lead. We’ll start getting this pattern down by hitting the root note of the chord twice before hitting the rest of the chord. Once you’ve got that down, you can add in the accented upstrokes. Be sure to watch the video to help you get the feel for it.

Level 4
So you’ve got the chords going and the strumming hand figured out, now it’s time to add some lead to your rhythm playing. Every “in-between” phrase is played while continuing that strumming pattern. No matter what your fretting hand is doing, you need to make sure you keep that groove with your strumming hand.

Level 5
For the last level of Hey Joe, we’ll add in the rest of the lead guitar licks to the progression. These are all the iconic melodies he played throughout the song. Most of them are based on an E minor pentatonic scale and use a healthy amount of vibrato. You’ll also use slides, double-stops, triads, and many more Hendrix guitar techniques. To get the most out of this lesson, be sure to download the PDF with all the tabs at the top of this page!

Want More Jimi Hendrix Guitar Lessons?

How To Play Guitar Like Jimi Hendrix
Find all Ayla Tesler-Mabe’s Jimi Hendrix guitar lessons in one place right here! You’ll learn about Jimi’s riffs, chords, guitar tone, and even play one of his songs all the way through. 

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